Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Reaching Goals

This year, I reached a goal: I finished the first draft of a novel! Obviously, this isn't the first time I've done this, but I struggled for a long time to actually come up with a story that I could turn into a full length piece of fiction. Last year's NaNoWriMo kicked my butt, but it also got me moving again. I struggled a bit after that because, even though I "won," I didn't have a complete story. I hit the exact word count, then stopped. But as someone with practice, I knew that was something I could do.

This year, though, I set out to draft a full book. It has a lot of work that still needs to go into it, like ten thousand words that need to be cut out and replaced with a better opening. Continuity needs to get hammered into place, scenes need a LOT of refinement, and the plot itself needs to get overhauled so that it all makes sense. But I have something to work with! And even though it didn't end the way I originally planned, I feel like it's an ending I can work with and work toward as I move all the pieces into place.

My goals for next year are a little different than last year's. My plan is to learn to write short stories. I'm going to finish this current book and start another one, and I'm going to query it, but my focus in between that project is to get at least three short stories published in SFWA qualified publications.

Unlike the goals I set as a younger man, I'm going to be flexible with these. They're difficult to achieve, which is important because I need to stretch myself to get better at what I do. But if it turns out to be "impossible," then I know how to adjust my technique to make sure I still accomplish real, difficult goals without simply "failing" to rise to a challenge. With the short stories, a lot of that comes down to the market (once I learn how to write short stories well). I can't control what editors want, though I can improve my work to make it desirable. So obviously, the number I set is mostly to give me something to aim for. It's not something I'm simply going to bend on if I feel like it's getting too hard. But we'll see what my goals look like in a few months, too.

Be safe this New Year's Eve. We'll have a new episode up next Tuesday!

Giles Hash is a writer, a blogger, a podcaster, and a home brewer. He finished one draft of a novel this year, spilled beer on his computer and almost had a meltdown, and tried to start a business. Some of those things are great, others are better left undone. But he's gong to conquer the year ahead of him and make something of his many careers.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Hello from Roma!

I was supposed to post last Monday, but I totally spaced. I should *probably* have something nerd-related to talk about, but it's currently too late in the day for me to come up with a great theme (since for me it's close to 10:30 pm).

Here are a few I considered:
1. How traveling makes me want to move to a new city and see what artsy things are going on there.
2. How awesome/amazing/hilarious Olan Rodgers videos are.
3. Why free wifi is the shizz.
4. Why buying books from a bouquiniste vendor on the Seine feels so lovely.
5. Reading old favorites in new places.
6. The fact that maybe a little German  and lots of Italian would've been rather helpful on this trip. RATHER. HELPFUL.

The fact is, if you haven't  ventured to a city where you don't speak the language, you should. Oh, don't get me wrong. It's  an introvert's nightmare. But it's good for you, I promise. It teaches you fun things like the fact of "calzone" being pronounced as "cahl-sone-ay". (Thank you, random food person, for making me feel silly saying a word I've grown up with. Those raised eyebrows were very helpful).

Happy travels!

Michelle is currently in Rome and has no idea how to make her mobile app put her photo in the right just pretend she's smirking at you. Actually, she probably *is* smirking at you, because she does that a lot. It's a personal problem.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Merry Happy

Regardless of what you celebrate(d) this winter, all four of us at Beyond the Trope want to wish you a very happy holiday season. Hopefully you were able to make time to be with loved ones and enjoy whatever traditions (or lack thereof) you have around this time of year.

This post is short because I'm doing exactly that.

Happy holidays.

Emily is blessed enough to be spending time with her relatives and some of her chosen family this week. All she's missing right now is a big old cup of hot chocolate and a cat to snuggle.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Break Time!

As we mentioned in our brief episode on the podcast feed this week, it's Christmas Break time. I'll have a proper blog post next Wednesday, but with how crazy it's been at my day job over the past three weeks, I'm going to take advantage of the fact that I'm less than five hours away from vacation and enjoy my lunch.

Have a great Christmas, and I'll write to you in a week!

Go have fun. Enjoy yourself and your family/friends.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Christmas List

This isn't a Christmas list for me, it's simply a selection of awesome charities you can donate to if you're looking for a way to give back during this charitable season.

Child's Play

Compassion International

Wounded Warrior

These are my three favorite charities, and they all do amazing things around the world. While so many people talk about what they should be GETTING, consider giving. It IS a wonderful thing to do.

Giles tries to be generous, and he appreciates any giving you do this time of year.

Monday, December 14, 2015

You Need This Language App

My to-do list this week is an odd collection of “Replace watch battery”, “Get emissions test”, and “Finish packing for Europe”. And among all of those errands and final things, I decided that this would be a great week to start learning a new language or two*.

One of my friends introduced me to DuoLingo last week. She’s using it to keep up with her Spanish and to learn a little bit of Italian. Since my French has felt rusty lately, I downloaded the *free* app and started messing around. People. You need this

Initial reactions:
Ooh, this is fun! And fancy!
Wait…how do you do accents on this thing? Hey! No! Not that accent!
Phone: You’ve earned a lingot. Me: YAAAAAASSSSSSS
Oh, man…you can COMPETE with people!

The learning sequence is a mix of translation, listening, and speaking. For example, in my French course I write sentences in French and in English, translate phrases I hear, and speak phrases into my phone mic. There’s also a part where you match pairs, such as “mange” to “eating” and “femme” to “woman”. It’s great practice to be able to spot those pairs without trouble.

Look at all the languages they have!

In the German course I just started, the first lesson was really basic – just listening to a few vocab words and creating a very simple sentence or two. I’m excited for my next lesson (which I interrupted to write this blog, because I’m SO EXCITED to learn a language again!).

If you haven’t tried DuoLingo already, you should! It’s free, and learning a new language makes you feel like you’re winning a game. AND you tell it what language goals you want to reach, and if you don’t work on your lessons before the mid-afternoon, it reminds you to get your butt moving. Pretty awesome.

Michelle will be (hopefully) travel blogging over at, so if you’d like to know where she and her sisters are over the next few weeks, check it out!

*Note: No, this really isn’t a “great” week to learn a language, but gosh dangit, I’m going to be in Germany for 2 days and last week I knew absolutely no German! And yes, this does mean I’m going to add an Italian course later this week. BOOYAH.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Ambitious Goals for 2016--Eek!

This past week, I started considering goals and resolutions for 2016 (holy cow, it's almost here, guys). I'm being super-ambitious this year; I want to finish two full novel rough drafts (both already kind of in progress), at least two short stories for submission, and a second draft of one of the WiP novels. At least, that's what I'm starting out with.

And, let me tell you, looking at it written down, I'm wondering what the heck I'm thinking. I've had trouble finishing a single novel in two years, why do I think I can pound out two books in one year? Honestly, I'm worried that I won't be able to make it. But I'm dang well going to try anyway.

That's the point of goals, isn't it? To stretch you and push you out of your comfort zone and kick your butt into moving toward your dreams? At least, that's what I'm telling myself!

Basically, I'm sick of letting myself set mediocre goals and then coming up with excuses not to meet them. At least this way, if I fail, I'm failing doing something ambitious and difficult. And there's a weird sense of motivation that comes from looking at hard goals and feeling slightly overwhelmed--but just slightly; there's a fine line between motivating-overwhelm and crushing-overwhelm, at least for me.

And now that I've written this blog post about it, I'm publicly accountable, too. Double-whammy!

Have you started thinking about your goals for next year? Let me know if you're on the crazy-train with me!

Emily will also be chronicling working toward these goals on her personal blog ( and Twitter. You know, in case you want to cheer her on or wait for the epic fail she's going to try really hard to avoid.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015


If your story lacks punch or believability, or even depth and "proper" length, there's a good chance you don't have enough going on. This week's episode deals with both character arcs and subplots, but today, I want to talk a bit more in-depth about why you NEED at least one (though probably two to four) subplots.

Think about your real life. Or your significant other's. Or sibling's, parents', best friend's, etc. How many things are going on in your life at once? Is it ever just one thing? If the answer's yes, chances are it's either so over-the-top chaotic that it's almost impossible to handle, or it's so boring that no one wants to hear about it for hours on end.

Subplots are those other, often minor, events in characters' lives that make the events on the page feel real. Sometimes the subplots will tie together, or the events will conclude at the same time, or solutions to one will inform the solution to another. But they MUST be present, even if they conclude wildly differently, because without them, the story is nothing more than a ninety-minute action movie.

Or someone's Facebook feed.*

If your book feels flat or short, adding a subplot can help, if it ties in with the main plot.**

Don't believe me? Go pick your five favorite books. Doesn't matter if they're written for Middle Grade audiences or High Literary fans with multiple post-graduate degrees. Each and every one of them has a subplot. At LEAST one.

As for HOW to write a subplot, look for background information about a character's life, then put together events that they need to solve while working on the main plot. The timeline has to work out for both to conclude satisfactorily for the reader, but it's possible to add a few paragraphs or full sections per chapter that are dedicated to these events (think about the romance arc in Soulless, or the "dancing lessons" in Game of Thrones [book not show]).

What about you, any tips on writing subplots?

Giles is getting ready to subplot through his WiP. Once he finishes the first draft. It's important to put in necessary subplots during revision drafts if they don't make it into the first draft, which is why he's so passionate about this topic today, and why he's thinking about it.

*Seriously, Facebook feeds are filled with glimpses of someone's life, and the most honest ones either get ignored for being "too whiney" or "too many instances of TMI."

**Keep in mind that the subplot and main plot are separate, but they NEED to both flow through the narrative smoothly or it will feel like two disjointed stories smashed together for the sake of padding pages.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Book Review: Cornelia Funke's "Inkheart"

Book magic, adventure, mystery – Inkheart has all the pieces you need for a fun read.

This little brick is a middle grade novel, but it deals with some pretty intense issues. Twelve year-old Meggie lives with her dad, Mo, who repairs books. One of Mo’s old “friends” appears and they all travel to Italy to safeguard a book with mysterious contents. 

I wish I could say it was amazing and phenomenal, but I honestly wasn’t invested in the story until I was more than halfway done.  And when you’re reading a book that’s over 500 pages, halfway takes a looooooooong time to get to. While I enjoyed seeing things from the perspective of Meggie, her father, her aunt, random characters, the bad guys…it was a little too much. I spent so much time jumping into and then being pulled out of the points of view that I didn’t really connect to any one character.

The plot was fine – the beginning was dark and mysterious (yay), yet I found myself annoyed (not yay) that Mo wasn’t telling his aunt or Meggie things that literally could have saved their lives and/or prevented all the dire circumstances that followed.
I know that all makes it sound like I hated the book, but I really didn’t! Funke’s worldbuilding and scenery are lovely. I’m sure part of this is also due to the great job the translator did on the text (Funke wrote it in German). There’s something to be said for a writer who can recreate such a vast, modern world and make it seem like a fantasy land. I love the story seed and the twists and turns of the plot. Looking back on it, I think the novel works better for me in hindsight than it did when I was in the thick of it.

I have a feeling this book would be great for a long roadtrip (there’s a lot of travelling in it). Meggie is a very brave character and I think she’d make a great literary figure for kids to look to for inspiration.

Michelle's only 12 days away from her own travels, and she already has room set aside to bring back books as souvenirs. 

Friday, December 4, 2015

The Mythbusters and Writing

On Wednesday, my family surprised me with a trip to see the Mythbusters Jamie and Adam Unleashed tour here in Denver. Don't worry, this isn't going to be a bragging post (though it was awesome). As a matter of fact, I wanted to talk about something Adam said in the second half of the show: that science and art (including storytelling) are two sides of the same coin.

As someone who was convinced she wanted to be a scientist--in particular a paleontologist--for a good portion of her life, this really appealed to me. Even the driest scientific paper is telling a story, the story of the experiment or study. And, like it or not, writers can't get away from science. Even in the wildest fantasy, there has to be rules and things that we call science nowadays that might not be called science in that world. That isn't to say all magic in fantasy is unexplained science, but it has to follow some of the same rules.

As someone who's now been writing for over a decade (not that the early stuff was any good), I know there's a lot I can learn from science. How would a shock wave really affect your character(s) based on how big the explosion is and how far away they are? Hint: it may take longer for the shock wave to reach your character than you expect. Is it possible for your character to escape from prison with salsa? Hint: it really depends on how much time they have.

Basically, I think there's this tendency among the artistic and scientific folks to look at each other and sneer. And I think that's bull. There's a lot we can learn from each other and from the different disciplines and I think that's totally worth the effort.

Emily has always been that weird kid who loved documentaries. She might have developed a character completely inspired by watching a history of tattooing once.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015


I love mash-ups. Give me two well-blended genres, and I'm sold most of the time. It's what I dig about Urban Fantasy, Sci-Fi Noir, Time Travel Romance, and so many other combos. This week's episode was, in part, inspired by an impulsive move at the library. I was walking around the audio book section, and I just wanted something good to listen to. I saw OUTLANDER by Diana Gabaldon, and I'd heard some very good things about it. Based on the review from that friend of mine, who reads a LOT of fantasy, I picked it up.

Technically, it's historical romance, but it's also portal fantasy mixed with some serious adventure writing. I loved it so much that I'm currently listening to it AGAIN with my wife.

Mash-ups can be tough to do well. My two favorites are Charlaine Harris and Jim Butcher. Both of their series could TECHNICALLY fit in the Urban Fantasy sub genre, but Harris leans more toward mystery/romance, while Butcher is action/noir.

The reason I love both of those series so much is that I enjoy stories that subvert my expectations. It's a big part of what inspires the podcast, and it's what inspires a lot of my writing. Epic Fantasy and Hard Science Fiction have their place, but in my experience, it's hard to find something that's not a rehash of something else I've read before. And while the books I love most are following many of the same patterns as other great stories over the centuries, they do it in a way that feels fresh and new to me.

I'm not saying that there's a lack of originality, either. I don't think mash-ups are the only TRUE new books. I love classic fantasy and sci-fi. And mysteries. And romance. But I'm not always in the mood for something with a classic feel. Mash-ups give me something ELSE to read through and engage with.

What about you? Do you have any favorite mash-ups? What are they, and why do you like them?

Giles is a mash-up of a musician, warehouse grunt, and writer. Other things tend to get mashed together in his life, but that's mostly potatoes with gravy.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Concerning Vacations

Some part of me is lost in the long Thanksgiving weekend we just left behind. For the first time in months, I actually got to sleep in, run errands, and write for more than thirty minutes in a row. It. Was. Glorious.

All that free time reminded me just how important it is to take vacations. A four-day weekend is barely long enough to recover from months of hard work. Most companies expect you to hit the ground running on the way back from a long weekend. Ha. This morning I hit the ground…and stayed there for a while. It helped me realize that I didn’t just need a vacation – which was my theory at the beginning of last week. I need to reboot my entire system. And from talking to friends and acquaintances, this is a common feeling. I think we all need more long weekends.

Before New Year’s comes along and gets me all to make promises I probably won’t keep, I want to make sure I finish strong this year. It’s silly to expect to be able to be 100% productive every second of every day. So I’m going to give myself a break from all the things that stress me out and spend more time writing and making crafty things. I’m going to hand-make some Christmas presents before I go on vacation in three weeks, and instead of letting my day job freak me out, I’m going to dive into things that I’m passionate about.

As the holidays loom over us, don’t forget to keep creativity on your to-do list. I know I’m not the only one out there who de-stresses by making up stories – and the world can certainly use a few good stories right now. 

Michelle's leaving in 18 days for a trip she's been planning for years/ IT'S GONNA BE AWESOME!

Friday, November 27, 2015

Happy (Late) Thanksgiving

I really have nothing to say today, so I'll keep it short and simple:

Happy Thanksgiving from the Beyond the Trope crew! If you're going out today, drive safe and don't be a jerkface.

We'll talk at you all on Tuesday, when our next episode comes out!

Emily is planning on spending the day warm inside with her cats and a new file in the Fantasy Life game for the 3DS. Because even word nerds need a break from the books. And, you know, laziness is a thing sometimes.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving

I realize that this week tends to be spent with family and/or friends, but for those of you reading this, I want you to know that I'm thankful for you. Not everyone reads this blog as obsessively as I read my favorite webcomics, but I appreciate you. YOU. For being here today.

This year I'm very thankful for my wife, BIG TIME! I'm also thankful for my cohosts, Emily and Michelle. The four of us as a group have accomplished a lot over the last year. We've each had our share of ups and downs, but I think we've done a good job of being there for each other, and while our lives are still moving unpredictably at times, we have each other, along with a wider group of friends we can rely on.

I'm thankful for my family, too. And everyone who came by a table or booth we set up at a con to say "Hi." I'm thankful for the one-time listeners who check us out for one reason or another, then move on, and I'm thankful for the listeners who find us for a specific interview or topic and stick around because they like what we do.

I'm thankful for the opportunities that may present themselves over the next year, and I'm thankful for the opportunities that we'll create for ourselves.

What are you thankful for?

Giles is CLEARLY thankful. It's been a good month.

Monday, November 23, 2015

In Defense of Adverbs

I like asking Google why the world hates adverbs. A lot of interesting results pop up. Most of them make me feel just a little sad. You see... I like adverbs*. I can’t help it. They’re too fun.  

Writing teachers might tell you to avoid  adverbs like the plague, but can you imagine NEVER using them EVER AGAIN? Read a few classics and you’ll find that adverbs have infected nearly every page. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that was completely absent of adverbs, and if I ever find one I have a feeling it will feel empty and soulless.

I like to think of adverbs the same way I think of alliteration**. If you enthusiastically insert incredibly interpretive wording that overpoweringly describes your point, no one will take you seriously. Writing sentences like that is fun – it makes me feel like Dr. Seuss – but it won’t give your novel an edge. It certainly won’t make you a better writer.

Adverbs can modify just about anything. They’re incredibly versatile, and if you have a hard time coming up with exactly the right word, they can feel like life-savers. I think that’s why they are so easy to carry too far. Like any wonderful thing, too many adverbs can transition your writing from interesting to overwhelming. A writer’s first step should be to find the coolest, best, most awesome verbs and nouns. But don’t let anyone make you feel bad for branching out. If you need an adverb because that’s how your character talks, it fits better with your style, or it just sounds better, use the adverb.

When I was taking reporting classes in college, the only professor who didn’t yell at me for adverb use was the one professor who’d won a Pulitzer for his writing. Newspapers are traditionally famous for using a low number of adverbs – they’re also written for someone with an eighth grader’s reading level. Is that the kind of experience you want for your readers? Then go for it! If, however, you like writing that doesn’t feel like a slough through academia…maybe you’ll consider coming to the Dark Side (we have adverb cookies).

Michelle is getting ready for three weeks in Europe, and the ONLY reason she’s unhappy about it is she’s leaving the day Star Wars comes out. *le sigh* It could be worse, right?   

*This is whispered because sometimes when you whisper things, people don’t get as mad about them.

**Another thing I love that I’m supposed to hate. Writers can be so bossy sometimes. :)

Friday, November 20, 2015

Accomplishments in 2015

Can I just say: holy cow, it's almost the end of the year?!

For the last several weeks, I've been feeling like I haven't accomplished anything with regards to my writing this year. This morning, I realized that's not true. Sure, I don't have a novel finished, but that doesn't mean I haven't done anything. As a matter of fact, this year I:
  • Wrote two short stories and submitted them to anthologies 
  • Wrote another short story that was submitted to a magazine (and needs to be submitted elsewhere) 
  • Wrote 13,000 words on the beginning of a new novel 
  • Figured out how I want to brand myself as an author moving forward (though I still need to decide how to implement that) 
  • Regained the rights to my first short story, "Colfax Kitsune," and started considering self-publishing it as a stand-alone piece, or with its sequel short story (depending on the results of the anthology the second one is submitted to) 
  • Met some amazing people, both within and outside of the writing community
  • Got encouraged by Neil Gaiman and James McBride 
  • Co-taught the "Writing the Basics of Queer Characters" workshop twice 
  • Co-taught the "Tropes 101" workshop twice 
  • Wrote my first humorous story that actually made people laugh and (assuming this anthology doesn't turn around and hate it) will be my first paid piece of fiction
It's funny how all of this kind of felt like nothing in the face of every day life, since none of it really happened in a single day (except the encouragement bits). And I think that's kind of a problem some creative types have: we look at our accomplishments and dismiss them because they don't seem "big" enough or "important" enough, or we've forgotten about the little things that went into the "big" accomplishments.

Moving into the holiday season, creative time gets short for a lot of us. But don't beat yourself up about it. Use the time to look back on what you accomplished this year, no matter how small it might seem, and feel proud about it!

Emily is working on reminding herself to take pride in her accomplishments. It's hard, but it's worth it. She's also working on learning how to be brave, reading her enormous backlog of comics, and writing entirely too many projects at the same time. Follow the insanity on Twitter @EmilykSinger.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The Subtle Changes of Life

My goals have changed a lot over the years, including where I want to go with my career, living arrangements (house vs. apartment), and what my a successful writing day looks like. A few years ago I was only working "part time," no paid time off, so one of my goals for writing included getting myself to a point where I could pay my bills with my writing. I still haven't gotten paid for a single word I've written, but that's beside the point.

Today, I have the day off. I requested it off to deal with some errands that could only be done during the week, while I normally work. And I'm getting paid for my time off. Obviously, that's more than a subtle change, but to me it came about in a significant but small way. It's huge, yes, but following the course of my life from my perspective, it was almost inevitable.

With writing, things have changed a lot, too. The book that I'm querying right now got conceptualized, drafted, revised, and edited in about 14 months. I pushed for that. I wanted to be able to show agents and editors that I can write a book in a year. That meant that "success" in each day of writing required a minimum of 1500 words, and near the end, closer to 2500. I hit those goals consistently, and I edited and revised on schedule.

Not so with the book I'm working on now. Because of the time I had to spend on my day job when I didn't get paid time off, and because of many other aspects of my life that I simply couldn't control, creativity almost didn't happen at all. For nearly six months. I even "won" nanowrimo last year with a story that was utter crap. I'm proud of the accomplishment, but I'm SO happy that I'm done with that project. It was stupid and bad and deserves to be shut away somewhere.

As some long-time readers/listeners know, I had a story workshopped on The Roundtable Podcast earlier this year. That's the story I'm working on now. The first draft has reached my minimum word goal of 60k, and I still have a few more chapters to write before it's drafted. But this will only be draft .5. The "complete" first draft will come after I let the ideas drift around in my brain, then I have to rewrite about 15k words and let it sit again before I can start the real revisions. It's going to take a while. Definitely more than 14 months from concept to query.

But I'm making progress. And I've achieved this, so far, with a "minimum" daily goal of 500 words. Which I consistently miss. I just upped it to 625 because I need to keep stretching myself again. Get my brain working where it was a few years ago. But I'm very proud of the progress I'm making. And even though life is changing in other subtle ways, too, my focus on writing and success is staying true to the goals I set when I was 14.

The journey won't look the same for each of you out there, and it won't even look the same for me next year. But I'm rolling with it. Not giving up, despite how often I feel like that would be the "best" thing I could do.

Words, words, words. Shakespeare's most brilliant line. It's how Giles feels a good deal of the time when he's trying to sound clever. His ego is definitely smaller than it was a few years ago. More changes, see?

Monday, November 16, 2015

Book Review: Attachments

He knew why he wanted to kiss her. Because she was beautiful. And before that, because she was kind. And before that, because she was smart and funny. Because she was exactly the right kind of smart and funny. Because he could imagine taking a long trip with her without ever getting bored. Because whenever he saw something new and interesting, or new and ridiculous, he always wondered what she'd have to say about it--how many stars she'd give it and why.
- Lincoln, “Attachments”, by Rainbow Rowell

This is the kind of book people tell you to pretend you don’t read. Cute, romantic, easy-to-read books are always “guilty pleasures”. But those jerks can stick it where the sun doesn’t shine. I LOVED this book.  I crammed it into a stationary bike ride and a late night, and it was over far too soon.

Maybe it’s because Rainbow Rowell’s characters are just so darn messy, or because they’re all so awkward, or because they remind me of my friends. I saw a Goodreads reviewer say she hated the characters – poor kid must not have read the same book as me. How can you not love characters as real as these?  

Anyways, on to why this book is FANTASTICAL:
  1. It’s a romance lead by 29-year-old Lincoln, who just finished his master’s degree and had to move back in with his mom. If Lincoln were real, I would marry him. This is not a joke. He stops to help strangers fix their car tires. He shares his dinner with little old ladies. And when he has a chance to meet his crush…he runs away. <3
  2. It’s set around Y2K, but the social interactions (a.k.a awkward, introverted people trying to go out into the “normal” world with “normal” people) are totally on par for today.
  3. The email exchanges between the leading lady and her best friend are so accurate for female best friends it’s creepy. I’m serious. It felt like reading the text conversations my bestie and I have during the day.
  4. Rowell’s style is just plain fun. You get to sit back and enjoy the story without trudging through rants about love or growing up or learning to adult. The book is about all of these things, but they present themes, not a thesis.
If any part of you loves a good story and wonderful characters, you should read this book. 

Amusing tidbit: At a recent author talk, Rowell said that Lincoln would totally be cast as Chris Pratt (the Parks and Rec version). Now Michelle keeps seeing Lincoln in the IT department...with raptors lurking in the shadows. 

Friday, November 13, 2015

Writing, Emotional Balance, and You

This week has been a ball of frustrations, time sucks, and worry for me. I won't mention why, because a lot of it isn't my story to tell, but it did make me realize (again) that I really don't get any writing done when I'm emotionally upset. And I'm pretty dang sure I'm not the only one.

Most people have to be in a good mindset to get creative. When we're feeling frustrated or irritated or tired or worried about something else, it's really hard to focus on getting words on the page. Really, really hard. How can you possibly get into a character's head if your brain is worried about a friend in the hospital or fuming about that jerk that hit your car in the parking lot?

On the other hand, a lot of people use "I'm not in the right mindset" to avoid being creative at all. There is a certain point where we have to put on our big kid panties and force ourselves to sit down and write. It's not fun, and it's hard, but sometimes that's what we have to do.

There's a fine line between genuinely being so upset that you can't work and using it as an excuse. I'm not sure where that line is for you, but I know I abuse it sometimes. And that's okay--sometimes. We all need a break now and then and if life is overwhelming, that might be a good time to take one. Just make sure you don't continue finding excuses not to write or create and that you get back on the horse soon!

Emily has had one of those weeks where all she wants to do is hide under the blankets and watch romantic comedies or goofy anime. But she wrote this blog and is going to write more later. Probably with a comforting cup of tea. Because tea is the best.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015


This week's episode of listener emails is probably one of my favorite episodes of any podcast I've ever listened to, watched, or recorded. Not because I'm in it, but because it inspired me!

Yes, the episode is only 25 minutes long, but it's a conversation! There are conversations that my co-hosts and I had, conversations that our listeners participated in, and because of those emails, conversations BETWEEN us!

It's exciting to me. Inspired thought, whether part of a deep topic or something "shallow", is something I enjoy. I'll talk for hours with my friends about books, movies, video games, RPGs, story, philosophy, morality, and a number of other topics. And I love it!

This engagement between humans is something that separates us from the animals. Complex thought, the ability and desire to communicate multi-faceted ideas, make us HUMAN, and the fact that I'm part of that makes me want to write, to record, to sing and dance (not as pretty as you might guess), and then join in conversation AGAIN.

Let's have conversations. Join in, either in the comments, or by emailing us. And if you don't want to talk to us, then enjoy a great book. Because by "listening" to the ideas of a writer, you're engaging in their conversation because you can't HELP but react when reading something amazing.

Seriously, go read! And tell us what you think we should read.

Despite getting a new video game yesterday, Giles actually made time to read a few chapters of THE AERONAUT'S WINDLASS by Jim Butcher. He even surpassed his daily writing goal AND wrote this blog post. Because he's THAT excited about awesome conversations!

Monday, November 9, 2015

Your Language is NOT Useless

I’ve been learning French since I was a sophomore in high school, and I used to teach it at the high school level. I use it every week to talk to the mom of the 4th grader I tutor. Without it, I would’ve gone insane in college.

So, if you ever want to see me all riled up, please announce that French is a useless language*. Go on. I dare you. It would give me permission to inform you of your utter wrongness.

French is one of the six working languages of the United Nations. It’s one of only three languages used in the European Union, and it is the only language spoken during deliberations at the Court of Justice of the European Union. It’s the official language of the Olympics, NATO, ILO, and UNICEF. (
Many other languages can be useful for your career and for travel, but French is one of the few internationally used languages. All multilingualism is useful, helpful, and beneficial, but not every language is global. When you speak French or one or two other global languages, you have a pretty safe bet of being able to communicate with almost anyone in the international business world. If you’re a teacher, you’ll be able to better communicate with your students, no matter what grade you teach.

Here’s another reason the statement “French is useless” makes me so mad:
The world is filled with thousands of different languages. I think it’s easy for people to forget that their home language (especially if it’s English and you’re American) isn’t the same home language as everyone else. No language is useless. Even if it’s not spoken globally, speaking another language stretches you into being a better person. It is endless exposure to a new way of thinking – it gives you a new perspective on everything that happens around you (The Guardian). Those who are multilingual are more logical, quicker to understand and solve problems, and able to juggle several tasks at once (

Sadly, there are many people who think multilingualism is great for other people, but that they and their kids shouldn’t have to deal with it. Thinking like that leads to the death of language and culture. Language is inextricably linked to culture, and if you want to speak well, you talk to native speakers. You grow to understand the depth and breadth of a different group of people.  When you tell people that a language is useless, you hurt us all. Detrimental ideas like that are part of the reason so many languages die out every year. The fewer languages we have, the fewer mirrors we have to look at society (National Geographic). 

I will forever maintain that if you are interested in learning something, it is useful. Learning to communicate with another person is never a waste of time.

Michelle suddenly feels lazy for only speaking two languages…time to go learn another!

*Proving the "Don't make a blogger mad" theory... an acquaintance ACTUALLY SAID THIS TO MY FACE over the weekend.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Close the Book

I recently watched all 13 episodes of an anime that I really enjoyed. It was ridiculous and entertaining and almost made me cry laughing once or twice. But it had a major problem at the end: there was absolutely no closure.

I know, logically, that this often comes from an intention to make a second season, or the source material (a light novel, or a manga, for instance) isn't finished or has an ending that didn't 'work' for anime audiences (or, you know, things got changed for American audiences). But it got me thinking about the importance of closure and payoff in storytelling.

How many times have you watched a movie or read a book and the ending was a complete letdown? The "it's all a dream" syndrome, or major story lines didn't get wrapped up despite the fact that it was a standalone piece. It's a horrible feeling, isn't it? You're left wondering what happened to the main conflict, or why the protagonist suddenly feels content living a normal life when the Big Bad is still out there, waiting. It's anti-climatic and makes a reader/watcher feel like they just wasted a bunch of time getting invested in the lives of these characters for nothing.

The good news is there's a fix for this. Critique groups and beta readers can help you figure out where your story might be falling flat and, if they're good at brainstorming, help you work on ramping up the tension and cutting out the anti-climatic bits. They're also pretty good at helping to point out plot lines that haven't been wrapped up, or plot holes readers will want filled in. Even the most detail-oriented planners are likely to have a few dangling threads that will drive readers crazy!

So, long story short: don't shortchange your audience. We'll get angry and write vague blog posts about it.

Emily might have had this problem in her latest short story, but it's fixed now. She also seems to get irrationally angry over let-down last episodes of things that don't have another season coming.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Book Review: Vampire Vic 2: Morbius Reborn by Harris Gray

Part two of the Vampire Vic trilogy caught me by surprise. In a great way!

The first book ends with good story closure, and this book picks up only a few weeks later with Vic coming out of a treatment center where he's been trying to get a "cure" for his vampirism. Throughout the story, he struggles with his desire to be a good person and his need to have solid relationships that seemed to be going better when he was a cold-blooded bloodsucker.

The ups and downs in the storyline, combined with the tension of character growth, made this a real page-turner. The characters are moving about in a world that feels real, living dynamic lives that make the reader wonder who's the good guy and who's the bad guy (though some of them are CLEARLY bad).

Over all, Harris Gray brought me to the end of the second part of their trilogy with a solid desire to find out what happens next. Which is annoying because the third book isn't finished, yet. I guess I'll have to wait for it.

Giles reads. Giles writes. Giles has little idea what to put here for the rest of his bio.

Monday, November 2, 2015

My Friends!

I have a confession to make: I don't care about Ross and Rachel. I don't really care about Joey or Phoebe, either. All I care about is Chandler and Monica.

Whatever you do, though, don't ask my roommate how much I care about them. I'll just tell you that I've done a lot of Netflixing lately...and it's been exclusively Friends for about a month now. I. Can't. Stop.

As a mid-80s baby, I was just young enough to not totally get everything that went on while Friends was actually on air. Well, that and I wasn't allowed to watch it. Ha. I caught a few re-runs when they used to show on TV, but before a month ago I'd never watched the series with any kind of order. I thought I would just watch a few and get on with my life.

This is how addictions begin, right? TV shows. Not even once.

I love laughing, and this show is hilarious. I love being able to relax, and this show doesn't make me work to follow along. At twenty minutes a pop I can chill for under an hour...or for five. But most of all, I love Monica and Chandler. They give the entire show story a depth that can only come from a couple living something slightly more realistic than always having free time to meet up in a coffee shop.  Which, by the way, I'm incredibly jealous of.

I'd like to shake hands with the writer who came up with the story twist that threw them together.

Michelle discovered thin, mint Oreos this week. Ermahgerd. Oreos finally have the right amount of icing. It's a miracle!

Friday, October 30, 2015

Why I'm Not NaNo-Ing

I can't really wrap my head around the fact that November starts on Sunday. My brain is convinced that Anomaly Con was last year and we still have a lot of 2015 to go, even though we don't. It's kind of tough facing the fact that we're heading into NaNoWriMo and holiday season.

For the last month, I've flip-flopped on whether or not I want to try my hand at National Novel Writing Month again this year. I used to do it like clockwork every year while I was in school, but I think I'm going to sit back this time.

The thing I've noticed about myself is when I'm focused on sheer numbers and an 'enforced' deadline, I get sloppy. Not just inconsistencies and 50-word-sentences sloppy, but sloppy in the "I'm going to write as much ridiculousness as I can just to hit my word goal" kind of way. That often results in fourth-wall breaking, thinly veiled fanfic sections, and a jumbled mess of words that doesn't make sense as often as it does.

That works for some people, who can go through and pick out the gems and polish them up into something usable. But I have yet to find a way to fix a NaNo mess that I've created. I re-read the stuff I desperately wrote in that month and cringe and spend days trying to figure out what story I was telling. Not exactly the best kind of editing out there, and it's always more frustrating that it's worth.

If you can create something polishable from a NaNo piece, I salute you. And if you're participating this year, good luck! Keep writing!

Emily is currently wishing her fingers would warm up so typing wasn't such a problem. She's looking forward to not stressing about hitting an imaginary deadline and taking her time with the story she's working on. Once she finishes the short story that's on actual deadline, of course.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Book Review: Vampire Vic by Harris Gray

Yesterday's episode coincides with my review of the book, Vampire Vic, by Harris Gray.

The story follows Victor Thetherson, a late-middle-aged accountant with a weight problem, receding hairline, and aversion to blood. He's also a vampire. I didn't know what to expect from this book when I started out, but I found myself laughing at the jokes, cheering for the hero, and cringing every time the clumsy villain appeared on the page. The characters I was supposed to like, I connected with in a good way. The characters I was supposed to hate made me want to punch someone. Specifically, those characters.

As I said in our interview with the authors, the writing reminded me a little bit of John Grisham. If Grisham wrote vampire humor novels instead of courtroom dramas. The pacing and suspense kept me intrigued, and I found myself up late several nights to find out what happened next.

All in all, Harris Gray crafted a solid story with a satisfying conclusion, which is a daunting task for many writers (including myself). I'm impressed with how much effort they put into the project, and next book (which I'll review next week) is set up well by this one, though Vampire Vic could stand alone (a key requirement, in my opinion, for any book that begins a trilogy). I'm curious to see what Harris Gray comes up with next!

Giles loves finding great books, and in his constant quest to read more, he is stumbling across all kinds of gems.

Monday, October 26, 2015

3 Reasons Mile Hi Con Rocked

Emily, Emily, and I* hung out at Mile Hi Con this past weekend. Though my brain is running primarily on the fumes of creative passion and a giant caramel macchiato, I’m going to attempt to explain why it was worth every ounce of exhaustion.

Let’s begin with surface-level facts. First, nerds provide FANTASTIC people watching. Mile Hi Con focuses on sci-fi and fantasy, two linked genres that attract some of the most interesting people around. One minute sitting at a fan table can show you children in fairy dresses, teenagers dressed as anime characters, people in nerd shirts and brainwave cat ears, and incognito geeks dressed in street clothes. It’s right up there with playing “Who Are They Waiting For?” at the airport.

Second, Mile Hi Con is people-friendly. This is different from being family-friendly. Some cons are full of snobby jerks who just want to prove they know more about a fandom than you do. But at Mile Hi Con, entire families come to enjoy the programming, and no one would ever tell you that you’re not nerd enough to attend. There are some cons I’d feel obligated to dress up for, but Mile Hi Con doesn’t suffocate you with that kind of pressure. They don’t need you to prove that you’ve memorized every line of Battlestar Galactica or have Pokémon tattoos – they just want you to geek out with them.

That leads to my third and final reason to be a fan of Mile Hi Con: geeking out. Maybe I’m biased since it was a literary convention and therefore provided a lot of book nerdery**. My favorite panels were about writing violence/fight scenes and breakthrough technologies à la Star Trek (and other sci-fi flicks) that we can expect to see soon. I’ve been researching quantum physics, so it was awesome to hear a discussion of basic quantum mechanics and nuclear vs. chemical propulsion systems. My physics brain got SO EXCITED that, 24 hours later, I’m still enthusiastic about what I learned.

If you’ve never been to a con, and even if you think they’re weird (which is, incidentally, how I felt about them before I started attending with the podcast), I sincerely encourage you to try one out. The small ones can be a lot of fun if you go with the right people.

Yes, you read that right: Michelle is studying quantum physics. DID YOU KNOW that binary information can only be stored as a 0 or a 1, BUT quantum bits (“qubits”) can be both a 0 and a 1 AT THE SAME TIME? So, theoretically, if you can convert regular binary information into qubit information, you can TELEPORT it. They’ve already done this with photons and certain spins using diamond entrapment (electrons trapped in diamonds so you can measure and transfer the spin from one trapped electron to the other). It’s unreliable and mind-boggling but SO FRICKIN COOL.
…now you know how Emily and Emily felt all weekend while Michelle studied.

*I highly recommend collecting friends who have identical names. Not only do you get to have amusing exhaustion-induced realizations (“Oh, my gosh, you guys, together our names say MEE!”), introducing yourselves to new people is insanely easy (“Those are the Emilys. I’m the Michelle.”)

**TOTALLY a word, no arguments allowed.  

Friday, October 23, 2015


Today, we're heading out to MileHiCon! Well, Michelle, Producer-Emily, and I, at least. Giles decided to go to class instead. Which I guess I can understand. Maybe.

Anyway, we're thrilled to be attending MileHiCon for the first time this year. We'll have a space with the fan tables where you can come bother us, tell us jokes, hear our terrible jokes, and pick up Beyond the Trope stickers. They're pretty sweet. Just saying.

We'll also be at the Writer's Networking mixer tonight, so come stop by and buy us beer hang out with a bunch of other awesome writers, including Patrick Hester of the SF Signal, Betsy Dornbusch, and probably Aaron Michael Ritchey. Basically, it's going to be a late-night blast.

If you're coming to MileHiCon, come say hi! I promise we don't bite. Much.

Emily is already exhausted, so this convention is going to be a fun, loopy ride. She's slightly disappointed she's missing the Avistrum events this weekend (Enigmus pride!), but is certain she's going to have a blast forcing stickers onto everyone who stops by our table.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Back To School

I'm making personal strides. That's right, I'm going to school. I started last spring, took a few small classes, and I'm finishing up a certificate this fall semester.

I know our episode this week is about writing education, but that's not where this is going. As a general rule, I think it's important for people to continue to seek out education, no matter what they want to do with their lives. Yes, it's a cliche, but when we stop learning, we start dying.

At my day job, this is helping me get a leg up on my future opportunities. For a while, it appeared that we here at Beyond the Trope were going to have a few other opportunities, as well. That may still happen, but I don't want to spoil the surprise (or brag about something that may not happen).

This may be a short post, but that's because it's a quick point. Go back to school. Either by picking up a book at the library, taking podcast courses (or iTunes U!), or finding YouTube/Netflix seminars. Even if it's not something directly related to your life right now, it could open up real opportunities. And even if it doesn't, what do you lose from learning something new?

Giles isn't short, but this post is. Because he's working on too many projects and forgot to post until late in the day. Don't tell Emily or Michelle. It's secret between the two of us. And the internet. So definitely a secret.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Lies Writers Tell Themselves

Writers might be professional dealers of BS, but readers aren't the only one who end up believing in fairy tales. Here are a few lies writers tell themselves...and the truths they probably need to believe instead.

Lies Writers Tell Themselves:

  1. I will totally write 1,000 words after I watch an episode of [insert TV show here].
  2. This. Is. Gold.
  3. I am never, ever, ever going to finish this manuscript.
  4. It’s so perfect I don’t even need an editor!
  5. This. Is. Crap.
  6. Agents and editors are scary.
  7. I’m the only one who needs to understand what I mean.
  8. Just one more round of edits and it’s done.
  9. My computer will never crash while I’m writing the final chapter.
  10. I’m going to be rich and famous!

Truths Writers Should Tell Themselves:

  1. If I watch more than one episode, chances are I’ve given up on writing for today.
  2. My critique group is going to have fun with these pages.
  3. Maybe I should start writing according to a word count calendar.
  4. I need an editor. Two editors. ALL THE EDITORS.
  5. I need encouragement, a walk, chocolate, and a puppy. Also, my critique group is going to have fun with these pages.
  6. Agents and editors are people.
  7. If this confused people, I should rewrite it.
  8. If all I do is edit, I’ll never move forward.
  9. Backup. Backup. Backup.
  10. I’m going to make enough money to buy a movie ticket once a year!

Michelle is sick, and this tiny post is the best her addled, exhausted brain could come up with today. 

Friday, October 16, 2015

The Woeful Tale of a Pantser-Turned-Plotter

If you've listened to our Writing Processes episode (which came out what feels like forever ago), you know that I'm more or less a pantser, in that I'm most comfortable writing "by the seat of my pants." What you might not know is that a I'm also notorious in my critique group for not finishing anything beyond a few short stories. Just to give you some perspective on that: we've been critiquing together for four years and they haven't read a single longer finished piece from me.

Obviously, this is a problem. How can I possibly expect to be a writer if I don't finish the things I'm working on? So over the last year or so, in between writing short stories, I tried to turn myself into a planner. I wrote a full outline for one story and a relatively detailed synopsis for another. I convinced myself it was a great feeling knowing where the story was going to go and that I could still change it if something felt wrong while I was writing it.

Neither of those stories went very far. I'm not entirely certain if it was the time spent on planning or taking pages to critique too early, but I lost interest in/got frustrated with both of them very early on. But I was still convinced I needed to try something else, since I haven't finished anything.

Last month, I gave up on planning for now and went back to pure pantsing for a new story I'm working on. I'm not entirely certain how long it's going to be, or what the actual central conflict is, or how any of my worldbuilding is going to come together into a coherent piece. But that's okay. That's what a shitty first draft is for, right? All of those things (and, you know, the tone and voice) can and will get ironed out once I have a better feel for the story I'm actually telling here.

And, you know what? I'm actually having fun writing again. That's the important part.

As of this blog, Emily is 6,000 words into her new story, which is further than she's gotten on something longer than a short story in over a year. She's quite proud of this fact, even if all of those words are total rubbish. At least they're words on the page.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The Blacklist vs. S.H.I.E.L.D.

A few years back, when The Blacklist and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. premiered, I was excited for both of them. Super excited. Lately, I've been catching up on last year's season of The Blacklist, and I thought about JUST how awesome that show still is. Which broke my heart because SHIELD fell so far short of what it could have been from the outset.

Disclamer: I gave SHIELD three episodes to hook me. If a show fails to grab me the first two weeks, like SHIELD did, I'll give it a third, just to make sure the creators aren't trying something new that will pay off. But with my limited time and all of the awesome shows I could watch, that's all they get. I've heard (from some fans) that it's much better, now, though many of my friends who binged their way through the first season have said that the second season kept them going for a little while, then fell flat again. For that reason, I think this post that originally appeared on my other blog a few years ago is completely relevant. Still. Because The Blacklist is still SUPER AWESOME!

I was as excited as anyone when I heard Joss Whedon was creating a TV show based on Marvel's S.H.I.E.L.D. I've never been huge into comics, but I love heroes, adventure, and ensemble casts with great chemistry.

The Blacklist has all of that. There's a clear protagonist with a supporting cast of sidekicks, a mentor, the armorer, bodyguard, and obvious antagonists. Agents doesn't have one clear-cut protagonist to attach to as a viewer. Yes, we're supposed to cheer for the team, but why do I care about the team? Sure, they are "the protagonist," but what makes them special? Aside from the fact that they work for a secret organization that's trying to save the world?

In The Blacklist, the stakes are clear from the get-go. For that matter, it was the same with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly, and even Dollhouse. And I guess Agents has clear stakes, but they're not enticing enough. Save the world, but from what? Or from whom? Villain of the week isn't good enough for a story of this magnitude.

The first episode was quite a letdown, too, because in the previews we saw someone with "superpowers." And then the creators specifically told the audience that this show wouldn't be about superheroes. So right off the bat they told us, "This is going to be awesome, but it's not what you think." And the one character with real stakes, the one the audience wants to get attached to, is sent on his way.

I hope you're following me on this, and if not, I'm sorry that I'm not being clear. But let me make another example from Whedon's most successful show: Buffy. We have Buffy. A vampire slayer chosen by the Powers That Be to kill vampires and protect the world from invading evil. She has a backstory, complex emotions, and friends who support her in all of her efforts. It's the same with The Blacklist. But the only character in Agents is someone without any discernible personality. He's bland, dry, deadpan, and not at all engaging. Despite the fact that he got stabbed in Avengers. The ONE person we have ties to is the hardest to connect with. And the rest of the characters so far have so little going on that it's nearly impossible to care.

To turn this to a writer's perspective, when creating characters, make sure they have several important traits that make them engaging. Not necessarily likable, but engaging. And give them friends. Foils to enhance and reflect their personality. No lone-wolves with a secret past.

Now, I'm not sure if I'm in the majority here, so I'd like to hear everyone's thoughts. Discuss!

Yes, Giles recycled two articles this month, but why rewrite what's already been said? He's using resources well, that's all. Not being lazy. No, just making himself responsible with his time.

Monday, October 12, 2015

4 Things I Learned From the Coolest Women in Literature

There are very few literary heroines with whom I feel a real connection. I know that sounds lofty, but just think of how nice it is to read about a protagonist who thinks like you. I rarely identified with what characters looked like, but I definitely felt a kinship with the nerdy bookworm girls. No joke: I grew up feeling an actual friendship for Jo March because something about her approach to life made me want to be better. Even the mundane things she did sounded cool.

In fond tribute of a literary heroine who made me think that even I could be a writer, here are a few kick-butt literary women who taught me a few things about life:

“I'd have a stable full of Arabian steeds, rooms piled high with books, and I'd write out of a magic inkstand, so that my works should be as famous as Laurie's music. I want to do something splendid before I go into my castle--something heroic, or wonderful--that won't be forgotten after I'm dead. I don't know what, but I'm on the watch for it, and mean to astonish you all, some day. I think I shall write books, and get rich and famous; that would suit me, so that is my favorite dream.”

“Oh, comply!” it said. “. . . soothe him; save him; love him; tell him you love him and will be his. Who in the world cares for you? or who will be injured by what you do?” Still indomitable was the reply: “I care for myself. The more solitary, the more friendless, the more unsustained I am, the more I will respect myself. I will keep the law given by God; sanctioned by man. I will hold to the principles received by me when I was sane, and not mad—as I am now. Laws and principles are not for the times when there is no temptation. . . . They have a worth—so I have always believed; and if I cannot believe it now, it is because I am insane—quite insane: with my veins running fire, and my heart beating faster than I can count its throbs.

Beauty: You called me beautiful last night.
Beast: You do not believe me then?
Beauty: Well - no. Any number of mirrors have told me otherwise.
Beast: You will find no mirrors here, for I cannot bear them: nor any quiet water in ponds. And since I am the only one who sees you, why are you not then beautiful?

Beatrice. Good Lord, for alliance! Thus goes every one to the world but I, and I am sunburnt; I may sit in a corner and cry heigh-ho for a husband!
Don Pedro. Lady Beatrice, I will get you one.
Beatrice. I would rather have one of your father's getting. Hath your grace ne'er a brother like you? Your father got excellent husbands, if a maid could come by them.
Don Pedro. Will you have me, lady?
Beatrice. No, my lord, unless I might have another for working-days: your grace is too costly to wear
every day. But, I beseech your grace, pardon me: I was born to speak all mirth and no matter.

You can find Jo March in Little Women, Jane Eyre in Jane Eyre (duh), Beauty in Robin McKinley's Beauty, and Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing

In addition to talking to Jo March when no one else was around, Little Michelle used to build secret horse barns* out of woodchips, designed toga dresses, and build blanket forts that covered the entire basement. In short, Little Michelle was frickin’ adorable.

*Secret because she hid them in the backyard, where she thought Mom and Dad couldn’t see she was messing with their landscaping. Yeah…they totally never noticed entire piles of woodchip mulch being moved and glued into structures big enough for Grand Champions horses…

Friday, October 9, 2015

Appreciating Talent

This past week, I finally took up blogging for my day job again. I wrote a quick little opinion piece for the business blog and my boss/father wound up raving about how well-written it was all night. Which was news to me, since I literally slapped it together in like fifteen minutes. Shhh.

My self-depreciation about this little blog post wound up leading to an interesting conversation about talent. It's easy to think of something you're good at as being easy, or unworthy of praise, or any other number of things that allow you to sweep it under the rug. It's easy to look at something you made and find its flaws, then use those to try and convince other people that the thing is absolutely awful. I think creative types in particular do this a lot.

But maybe we shouldn't.

Maybe we should all take a step back from whatever it is that we've made--a little blog post, a big novel, a song, a painting, whatever--and look at it from the point of view of someone who doesn't have the skill set we do. What would someone who isn't aiming to be a professional writer think? What would someone who doesn't have a fine arts degree think? Can we find the shining bits as easily as they could?

Looking at your work like someone else, trying to find the bits beyond all the flaws we immediately see, can help us not hate our own work so much. We as creative people tend to be entirely too hard on ourselves when, sometimes, we really need to actually take stock and appreciate our own talent and hard work.

Emily has a really hard time thinking of herself as 'talented,' but she's trying to get over that and bolster her ego a little bit. She's also in the midst of working out ideas for a new cosplay, because reasons.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Real Beginning

[This blog post originally appeared in the RMFW Monthly Newsletter in the March, 2015 issue]

“Make your first pages shine.” Everywhere I look, it seems that writers, agents, and editors are talking about how crucial your first few pages are. “Without a solid hook,” they say, “you’ll never keep a reader’s attention.” A lot of emphasis is placed on those opening pages, and with good reason. They hook the reader, draw them in. Get them to commit to your story. But once you convince them to invest their time (and money), they want satisfaction. Those first pages make a promise, and a believable ending that fulfills that promise is crucial to getting readers to go out and buy the next book.

I cannot emphasize this enough, so let me repeat it: without a good—no, make that great—conclusion, you’ll never get readers to stick around. Yes, the good opener gets the reader to invest in your book. But if you want them to buy the next one, and the one after that, you need to finish the story well!

Without the drive to read more of your writing, they’re unlikely to tell their friends about you. And word-of-mouth is still one of the best ways to expand your audience. If I read your book, and I like it, I’ll tell my friends. For every friend I tell, you might gain a new reader.

The problem is that readers who feel ripped-off by a poor ending will definitely tell their friends. And while good reviews spread one-by-one, bad reviews travel by the dozens. If a reader feels like they wasted their time on an unsatisfying book, their angry opinions can be as devastating to your career as a wildfire to the face of a mountain.

As an example, I read a duology a few years ago that seriously hooked me in. Great writing, engaging premise, solid prologue and first chapter (both of which I read in the store). My wife bought the books for me for my birthday because I was so excited about them.

By chapter two, the writing got tedious. Universal rule-changes appeared at random so the author could advance the plot without sticking to their formula. Info-dumps and setting description littered each chapter, but without any character engagement to make it meaningful to the reader. And the relationships were all cookie-cutter clichés, put together with throwaway lines like, “At that moment, they knew they would be friends for life.”

I stuck with it, though, because the hook was so good. I genuinely thought it would wrap up in a way that would make me feel rewarded for following through.

Nope. Seven hundred pages later, I reached a conclusion so far out of left field that I won’t read another one of that author’s books. Ever. Not a single one. I gave that person two chances (because it was a duology), and they failed to fulfill in either book.

So what is a solid conclusion? As I’ve said before, it’s an ending that fulfills the promise of the book. With the exception of certain book series (not all, mind you) a book needs to wrap up the obvious loose ends. Sure, a few books can get away with leaving a question or two unanswered, but they’re the exception. As a general rule, every story question and promise set up in the narrative must be answered and fulfilled. It doesn’t have to happen specifically the way the reader expects. In fact, that can be almost as disappointing as failing to follow through.

Now think of your favorite book. How did it end? How did it begin? Follow the plot in your mind, all the way through. Does the ending have anything to do with why you love that book? Or did you hate the ending? If it had ended differently, would that ruin the story for you?

If you want readers to stick with you and pick up more of your books, you can’t forget to make your ending fantastic. After all, if it’s your first novel, or the first one a reader picked up, it’s not really the end, is it? If it’s done masterfully, that’s just the first beginning.

Since this week's podcast episode is all about endings, Giles decided to post this. It summarizes his thoughts perfectly.